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A World of Light: Earth Image of the Week December 14, 2012
Satellite image of Australia at night.
Observers wondered what those bright lights could be in this satellite composite of Australia in the western part of the country, where there should be none.
When NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a new nighttime view of Earth this month, careful observers noticed lots of lights in places where there should be none.

The “Black Marble” images of earth were thought to just represent illumination around the planet created by artificial light around human activities.

But then why were there so many lights in the images in remote western Australia, where there should be none?

Almost all of Australia’s population lives in and around the state capitals, and the Australian Capital Territory, indicated on the image to the right.

The Black Marble images were generated by the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite observations over a nine-day period in April 2012 and during 13 days in October 2012.

Data from those orbital passes were combined and processed to create the striking nighttime view of the entire world.

And it turns out that wildfires were raging across the barren Australian landscape during those periods, hence the mysterious glows on Blue Marble where there otherwise would be none.

NASA points out that because different areas burned at different times when the satellite passed over, the cumulative result in the composite view gives the appearance of a massive blaze.

These fires were temporary features, in contrast to cities which are always there, except during the odd blackout.

Other bright spots on the Black Marble images that appear in uninhabited areas include those from fishing boats, gas flaring, lightning, oil drilling or remote mining operations.

Full story and image: NASA